Attention Conservation Notice: This post is primarily a prompt setting myself up for several posts springing from my recent reading of Before Literature: The Narrative Without the Written Word, which hit me at the right time and connected to other ideas I’ve been exploring.
This series of posts represent a thread of thought I couldn’t shake, so I’m finally compelled to start writing about it. I can already see the amount of revision effort this dumb idea is going to take from me and frankly I feel a bit of dread about it. In my writing process, dread is a primary input and despair is a necessary output, so since I’ve got the material I need I’ll just get the machine cranking.January 10, 2020, a month before publish date of any of these notes
I think this is a good place to start for Fogbanking 2020. I named this blog for a lost technology that had to be meticulously rediscovered because the entire concept was extremely upsetting to the rationalist I was, and sort of a touchstone concept for the postrat [alt] I’ve become.
I’ll introduce a loosely assembled dish of what I’m thinking below, to bake later.
A List of Concerns
A set of contexts or problems I think are interesting.
- I’ve been in Mumbai most of the past 2 years, passively consuming media (mostly the news, and those lo-fi mythic shows on Hotstar) and actively thinking about app product development and how people engage each other digitally in a polyglot and often non-English-literate ecosystem.
- Back home in the USA, over the past several years I’ve noticed friends and peers (in the same age group as me or younger) talk about themselves and each other in terms of DSM-V labels; this would be odd or insulting to older acquaintances and family.
- I’ve spent some time thinking about fandoms and occasionally participating.
- There are obvious parallels between, say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and older epics.
- I like old stuff and always have; historiography is one of the oldest recorded interests in this blog.
- Late last year I finally read War Nerd’s sexed up version of The Iliad and found it to be harmless, pulpy fun (And pulpy is the point! The version I read over the summer in high school was interesting as a historical artifact, but that’s a different kind of entertainment than pulpy, which gave me a new perspective).
- I’ve been thinking about irony and earnest aesthetics and why I just don’t like a lot of stuff.
The connective tissue, if not obvious, will be introduced shortly.
How to Begin?
This is a skippable section if my personal projects are not interesting to you. Originally some subset or offshoot of this was supposed to open the “Prelit 1” post.
This first post is going to introduce some notes and commentary of a book on preliterate stories, what was unique about them, and how those millennia of oral traditions still permeate our culture today. I’ll also suggest that the ideas this book presents will potentially achieve new significance as we move away from a text-primary experience of the web.
There are several ways I thought of starting this thread over time. I could start with some personal background to establish my existing biases as a chauvinistically literate English speaker, an elitist who likes longform writing and prestige television and dislikes sitcoms, Transformers movies, and reality television, unless under the weather (or under the influence) and often watched with someone who I will later blame for subjecting me to it. This would be a reasonable way to start if this were structured as a personal essay, because it would be a starting place for a personal character arc during which my point of view will be challenged and I can end the essay with the enlightened belief that some of the above bad things are actually good.
Another solid path forward is to contextualize my interest in this particular book with the ideas and cultural/professional challenges I’ve experienced in my time in India. This could be a framing device, where I pose my current-day concerns, probe the book, and then return to the current day with some solutions and a few new friends and concepts along the way.
A plausibly less compelling way, a way that might increase the value of this writing for Future Me and almost no one else, is to draw a genealogy tying this blog post to things I’ve already written. Here I have options, too. I’m going to be talking a bit about tribes who act as audiences and gatekeeping communities. I could’ve organized some thoughts on the value of fiction in maintaining communities. I have this old note (section III specifically) about “language as states of matter” metaphors including thinking (gas), speech (liquid), and writing (solid) that could go somewhere. But if I hadn’t chosen to go meta and alienate any casual readers (and I have no illusions about this: “casual readers” here are all readers of this page other than myself) by thinking through these self-reference options, I think I would be down to two best choices:
- My second-ever post about how we imagine an austere white marble past out of the ruins of what was, for those people, a gaudy and colorful and lurid present. This has the value of being a super old self-reference, potentially increasing the illusion that I have any foresight whatsoever. I already mentioned the ‘pulpiness’ of the War Nerd’s Iliad versus that cold academic poetic translation that is a more literal reference to the original Iliad. The argument I intend to make is probably clear from the comparison.
- An old (but not as old) and very pertinent blog post about a fascinating NASA paper on Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication that explores an endlessly interesting topic: how does one communicate across vast expanses of space, time, and culture? How do we know we’re being communicated to in the first place? What form would it take? The NASA paper uses the lost artifacts and communications of ancient human civilizations to illustrate the challenge.
But now I’ve show you my cards, the need to pull off a whole trick of introducing the notes or the concepts isn’t very pressing. How about a bit about me and then we’ll get right into it:
I was a student in the IB Diploma Program, which is something I share with many of my closest high school friends and many of the international students I met in college, including the friend who is my business partner and host in India now. Students of this program share memories of the various community service, essay writing, and test structures. A significant shared experience we also share is the practice of annotating literature, often on a subset of the Western Canon and other available world literature (which did me some good I even recognized at the time- the books in the Latin American unit are still among my lifetime favorite fiction.) What is curious to me is that some literature is more amenable to annotation than others- annotating Beowulf too closely is a practice of intellectualizing an instantiation of a story in a way that its bards would see as alien- an idea I'll flesh out shortly.
Here is where the book notes would go, but I’ve already published them.